Case-Shiller numbers show that prices dropped in 19 of 20 cities in November; only Detroit and Washington, D.C., showed higher prices over 2010.
In a reminder that a few encouraging signs don't mean a quick end to the housing crisis, S&P/Case-Shiller reported that home prices fell again in November and that prices were down 3.7% for the year in the 20 cities it tracks.
"The trend is down and there are few, if any, signs in the numbers that a turning point is close at hand," David M. Blitzer, chairman of the S&P's index committee, said in a news release.
Annual price declines ranged from 11.8% in Atlanta to 0.2% in Denver. The only cities reporting prices increases from November 2010 were Detroit, up 3.8%, and Washington, D.C., where prices rose 0.5%.
The new investigation team encompasses a number of federal and state agencies. The question is whether it will hold anyone accountable for the mortgage mess.
The new mortgage-fraud task force that President Barack Obama announced last week night during his State of the Union address has wasted no time getting started. The question is how much it will accomplish.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group had already issued subpoenas to 11 financial institutions.
"The working group will streamline and strengthen current and future efforts to identify, investigate and prosecute instances of wrongdoing in the packaging, selling and valuing of residential mortgage-backed securities," Holder said at a news conference. "I am confident that this new effort will improve our ability to ensure justice for victims; help restore faith in our financial markets and institutions; and allow us to answer the call that President Obama issued earlier this week in his State of the Union address."
Expansion of mortgage-modification program includes rental properties, homeowners with significant debt and possibly borrowers whose mortgages are backed by Fannie and Freddie.
The federal government announced Friday afternoon that it was expanding the Home Affordable Modification Program to include rental properties and that it would triple the amount it pays lenders to write down principal on underwater loans.
The increased maximum payment for principal writedowns — from 21 cents on the dollar to 63 cents — is aimed at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises, now under conservatorship, that back about half of all U.S. mortgages. The Federal Housing Finance Administration has refused to write down principal on those loans up to this point, citing the cost to taxpayers.
The deadline to apply for a HAMP modification was extended a year, to December 2013.
Nearly one-third of home sales are to cash buyers, who often command a significant discount off list price. In turn, the seller gets a quicker closing.
As home sales increase and inventory shrinks, we're continuing to experience a decline in median home prices in many cities.
One reason for that, according to the new Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey, is the influence of investors who are paying cash for homes. Those cash sales are driving down prices.
"Investors are very aggressive and expect to see 15% to 20% off list. They will close in 30 days or less and most are cash buyers," one California real-estate agent said to the surveyers.
Last year was the worst on record for sales of new homes. Builders believe the worst is behind them and expect sales to increase this year by 18%. Some cities will do better than others.
Here's news that is likely no surprise: 2011 was the worst year on record for sales of new single-family homes. The total of 302,000 homes sold was less than half the homes sold in a good year.
It was 7.3% lower than the number sold in 2010, which had been the worst year since record-keeping began in 1963.
New-home sales fell 2.2% in December after rising in the previous three months. Builders are hanging on to the belief that the worst is behind them.
"The bottom line is that while 2011 was the worst year for new-home sales on record, signs of gradual improvement began to emerge near the end of the year across a growing number of markets," Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders and a homebuilder in Reno, Nev., said in a news release. "This nascent recovery should continue to gain strength in the year ahead as more buyers take advantage of the very good deals that are out there for newly built homes."
If Congress agrees to the plan — and that's a big if — the impact on the housing market is likely to be limited, analysts say. It won't curtail foreclosures.
We wrote Tuesday about how the Republican candidates hadn't had much to say about solutions for the housing downturn. Some hoped that President Barack Obama would announce a major housing initiative during his State of the Union speech, but he didn't have much to say, either.
Obama's most significant comment on housing was the announcement of a refinancing initiative, but it's unclear how much impact it would have — if it is enacted at all.
The number of contracts to buy homes rose in the Midwest but declined in other regions. Still, the numbers are better than at the same time last year.
The number of contracts to buy homes signed fell in December, a reminder that any housing recovery is likely to come in fits and starts. Remember the economist who predicted a "catfish recovery"?
The National Association of Realtors reported that its index of pending home sales fell to 96.6% last month. That was 3.5% lower than November's 100.1, which was the highest number in 19 months. An index of 100 is considered healthy.
"Even with a modest decline, the preceding two months of contract activity are the highest in the past four years outside of the homebuyer tax-credit period," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a news release.
Florida voters, facing massive foreclosures and loss of equity, may force presidential hopefuls to look harder at the crisis. Other key battleground states also are suffering.
Up to this point, the Republican candidates for president have largely ignored the housing crisis. When they talk about the economy, they talk about jobs and regulations, not the millions of Americans who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.
We'll put aside for now the issue of just what Newt Gingrich did for Freddie Mac. If you're interested in Freddie Mac's role in the housing crisis, CNN has a good explainer.
As the GOP candidates fight for votes in the Jan. 31 Florida primary, they’re having a harder time ignoring the housing issue. Florida has been the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis, and residents have seen their homes drop in value by more than 50% in some areas.